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L.A. Beat

Here's to the best of a bad year: Good riddance 2020

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This year has been the best year of my life. I was in three plays, had three art shows, went back to school and the Allied Arts Council presented me with the Mayors Award for Individual Excellence, as L.A.Uncovered playing  Halloween at Pop’s Pub South. Photo By Richard Amery Beat celebrated 10 years of supporting and covering Lethbridge’s amazing arts and entertainment scene.

 Wait a minute, that was last year. Thanks to Covid 19, 2020 has been an apocalyptic, puritanical nightmare where there’s no singing, dancing or live music or entertainment allowed, where live music venues, theatres, art galleries, restaurants and bars were forced to close for “ the greater good.”

And just like in the Greek myth of Sisyphus who was forced to push a rock up a mountain  as a punishment for trying to cheat death, only to have it roll back to the bottom and force him to do it all over again for eternity,  just when it looked like things were under control in September and things cautiously started to open up again and it might look like things would get back to normal, the second spike hit and, as predicted, things got a lot worse.

I’m not a medical, epidemiology or virology expert, but every graduate of Facebook university has become one. Perhaps spouting and repeating conspiracy theories helps them cope. We have all been doing our best just to survive a year that has seemed to last forever. Before you share something you saw on Facebook or Youtube, or get after someone who has a different opinion about how to deal with unprecedented times, just remember people have their own agendas. Someone, somewhere is making money off not only your fear but your paranoia. It sure isn’t me. It's been exhausting being inundated by it all.

I knew 2020 was going tPeter and the Wolved playing behind pexiglass. Photo by Richard Ameryo be a challenge. I went back to school as planned in January, but had to postpone it to take care of some serious family issues. I continued singing lessons and even had my first audition for New West Theatre’s production of Dear Johnny Deere. I didn’t get the part but it was worth it for the experience.

I missed auditions for Shakespeare’s in the Park’s Merry Wives of Windsor as I went on the Outlaw Country Cruise from Miami to the Florida Keys to Jamaica and back at the end of February. For my live music fix of the year, I saw Steve Earle, the Waco Brothers, the Mavericks, Supersuckers, Bottle Rockets and NRBQ and got back just as everything was shutting down because of Covid. I got to fulfill a long term dream of overcoming my stage fright to play Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Stolen Horses” on stage in front of people in the same venue as Ray Wylie Hubbard, who was on the boat, but wasn’t in the audience as he was preparing for his show right after the jam. He actually got a request for “Stolen Horses,” though he said he couldn’t remember how to play it. And that was the highlight of a year that was a big bag of suck.

 The rest of the year was spent taking care of my dad, taking care of his business, getting him settled into his new place, hiking in the coulees, reading a lot and doing a few much neglected home improvement projects.
 This is where it is most important to count blessings. Covid has been devastating senior’s residences all over the country. Thanks to the efforts of the staff and some strict health precautions, my dad’s residence has thankfully been Covid free, knock on wood. So has my aunt‘s residence. I’ve also been relatively healthy and so have my friends and family.
 A lot of people took the opportunity of forced downtime and CERB payments to re-evaluate their lives and come up with their second acts. I didn’t. I probably should have, but we all cope in our own ways.

 To quote Ray Wylie Hubbard “ The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, I have really good days.”

When it looks like the world is falling apart, people turn to art. Just think of all the music you listened to during the lockdown and the TV and movies you binge watched. None of that would have been possible without artists.

Artists are resilient. They have to be at the best of times. This year they were forced to use all their creative muscles and adapt like they never have had to adapt before.
 Local artists like Gabe Thaine opted to do regular online performances throughout the summer. Pop up concerts were popular all over the city when the weather was nice. Michael Bernard  Fitzgerald opened his “Greenbriar” tent  tour in Lethbridge, playing a late announced show at  a farm outside of town, which almost immediately sold out. Country star Gord Bamford had to pivot after cancelling his massive Rednek arena tour. He opted to do a smaller drive-in tour in July , where people could watch he and his band play their many hits from the comfort of their vehicles. The tour was designed to raise money for mental health organizations in all his tour stops. Their Exhibition Park show raised money for Woods Homes and Lethbridge and District Family Services.

 A lot of other artists took advantage of downtime to create new music. Starpainter, Brenna Lowrie, Skinny Dyck, Taylor Ackerman’s Global Acid Reset, Corb Lund and Dark Wrangler were among numerous local bands who released new music during the pandemic. Those were just the ones I heard. Local punk band Berserker also has a new CD out, but I haven’t had a chance to hear it yet.

Next year is already going to be an excellent year for local music.

Sheldon Arvay and Andi Roberts of the Andi Roberts band playing one of several multi-band shows at the Slice, Sept. 19. Photo by Richard AmeryIn September, Steve Keenan gave Honker’s Pub patrons a peek at his upcoming, soon to be completed new CD.

 Allan Wilson’s new CD has just been released. 

Ryland Moranz released two great videos for his new CD “XO 1945” which will be released on Jan. 15. Shaela Miller also released a couple of videos and songs for her upcoming CD “ Big Hair Small City.”

 And local metal band Tyrants of Chaos played new music off their next CD at a couple multi-band concerts at the Slice.

It was a year of change for local music venues forced to cope with reduced capacities. The Slice, Owl Acoustic Lounge, Honker’s Pub and Sound Garden explored different methods of putting plexiglass in between their stages and their audiences and provided hand sanitizer and masks at the door. And while it was like watching music in a giant terrarium, it was just nice to have live music period.

Average Joes shut down at the beginning of July , leaving Sound Garden Over 21 Club as Lethbridge’s only mid sized venue.

Outdoor music festivals took a major hit due to Covid, with South Country Fair and the Geomatic Attic’s Wide Skies Music Festival both canceling as well as Canada Day celebrations  and The Rotary Dragon boat Festival at Henderson Lake also cancelling. However the Geomatic Attic put on a pair of successful outdoor multi-band concerts at Legacy Park.

 The town of Raymond tried an outdoor festival in August with several local bands including Coda, Saints and Sinners and Between Skies performing at the Victoria Sports Park
 The Owl Acoustic Lounge added an outdoor patio for the summer and a beautifully balmy fall, before shutting down in December. Thanks, in part, to a massively successful crowd funding campaign, fortunately, they are just moving up the street into a bigger venue, which they expect to open in February.

 In between lockdowns, the Slice celebrated 15 years with a lot of live music including a massive jam, Nov. 5 and Peter and the Wolves who played a couple of great shows there.
 Ben Lamb was a busy man this year. He not only organized a couple of big, multi-band events at the Slice, to bring a little bit of money in for the popular live music venue, but he also formed a fantastic Volbeat tribute called Rebel Angel which included country singer Breanne Urban among their ranks.

Halloween was a hoot, with the return of Uncovered to Pop’s Pub west. While both the Owl and Slice featured a cool new local Misfits tribute 138 over Halloween weekend.

Former Chevelle Davis Chomiak embraced tribute acts. A year or two ago he formed a successful Def Leppard tribute Stage Fright, and was about to break out his Whitesnake Tribute Shake Bite in November, but the show ended up being cancelled.

Thankfully 2020 is almost over. That doesn’t mean Covid is over. It is still important to use common sense, wash your hands, keep your distance and wear masks. Because the sooner we start working together as a community and less about just thinking about ourselves, the sooner things will actually get back to normal.Steve Keenan, Gary Drayton and Paul Kype premiere some of the music from Steve Keenan’s upcoming album at Honker’s Pub. photo by Richard Amery

 May the best thing that happened to you in 2020 be the worst thing that happens  to you in 2021.

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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